Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat (1854)
Today's pre-Raphaelite painting is more cruel than kinky, but it does link to fallen angels, and Cover Him with Darkness. 

A scapegoat is someone who gets the blame for everyone else's misdeeds. The word comes from Leviticus 16 where the ritual for the Israelite Day of Atonement is set down:

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:
22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

We owe the word itself to William Tyndale's 1530 translation from the Latin Vulgate. Scapegoat means "escape-goat" - the one that is sent away, as opposed to the one that is sacrificed for a sin-offering.

But modern translations direct from the Hebrew don't use the "scapegoat" word at all. They say say something like this:
and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel
Azazel is identified in extra-Biblical Jewish tradition as one of the fallen angels. (And he's identified by me as the (anti-)hero of Cover Him with Darkness.)

Of course, the association of goats and fallen angels turns up repeatedly...



Goats are symbols of iniquity (remember how Jesus in parable divides the righteous sheep from the wicked goats) and in particular - because of the way billy-goats go for it with enthusiasm - of lust. Lust, for example, is a prime attribute of the goatish pagan nature-god Pan, who is arguably one of the root sources of the way we picture the Devil:

He's got wood ... statue of Pan and Daphnis from Pompeii

It just gets worse ... statue from Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum
I think I can pretty much guarantee, though, that my version of Azazel will not be caught in flagrante with any goats. It just doesn't go down well in Romance circles... :-)

1 comment:

Jo said...

That's a brave goat fucker in the last statue. I'd say those sharp little hooves pack a nasty kick!